Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Blocking Mats

I've been worried about the fact that the blocks for my Great American Afghan have quite a bit of variation in size. That means I had to take the plunge into blocking. I knew it was inevitable but for some reason it was a scary proposition to me. My mom showed me how to use a steam iron to block but my iron is about 19 years old and doesn't get used much. It has all sorts of dry and crusty minerals built up on the steam holes. Yes, I do need to invest in a good quality iron. But for now, I wanted to try this wet method of blocking. The blocking mats from Knit Picks are fantastic. The pale lavendar diagonal block was the smallest among all of my completed blocks, so today I blocked it along with the other block I completed today. I had no trouble at all stretching the lavendar block to match the size and shape of the larger teal block. I used a spray bottle of water to spritz the blocks. I was a bit unsure how much or how little water to use, but I am very optimistic this method will make my knitted projects look very nice! I found instuctions on http://www.knitpicks.com/ about how to block knitted projects in this manner, using these blocking mats.

#15 Gift Wrapped Package is Complete!

When I first saw this block (no offense to the designer... Marge Hayes) I thought it was... ugly. Sorry to be so blunt, but the block has these huge petals or leaves on it and it just did not appeal to me. Our course instructor showed us the block WITHOUT the petals and I could not wait to make it! It is gorgeous and to me... it resembles a square gift wrapped package with ribbons and a fancy bow. The petals, to me, cover up so much of the block. The Editor's note on the pattern reads, "You either really love the leaves or you really don't... the square is beautiful without the leaves." I agree of course, but when I read the pattern designers inspiration for the block, I had a whole new respect and appreciation for the design. The designer writes, "garter stitch (border) represents the running band of a brick wall; smooth stockinette stitch, like patches of lawn bisected by a path; branches, clover, leaves, and finally bobbles that look like raspberries. I didn't know how I would finish the center until I got there and it came to me. I'd use I-cord ~ perfect for (flower) stamens!"

Wow, how creative is that!? That being said, this block was an absolute BLAST to make! Dare I say... it was maybe the most fun one yet!? The block starts with 196 stitches joined to make a circle on circular needles (of course). Then you decrease at each of the four corners on every other row. The pattern is complicated enough to keep you interested, but logical enough that you actually start to memorize it. The middle part is completed on double pointed needles. My dpn's are duller than my circular needles; that made the "raspberry" bobbles a bit tricker. When you are almost done, you are left with 12 stitches. You put 4 stitches on each of 3 dpns and then you make two inches of I-cord (each 4 stitches wide). You leave a long tail on the I-cord and then wrap the I-cords around each other to make an attractive looking center to the "flower". The raspberry bobbles and the flower center resemble a bow and the great cables resemble fancy ribbons on a gift wrapped package. Whatever the case may be, I LOVE this block.
You can see from some of the photos, I am making my first official attempt at blocking! My mom got me these blocking mats from http://www.knitpicks.com/ for Christmas (Thanks, Mom!). I pinned the block into shape and then spritzed the block with water (got a cheap spray bottle in the area where you find irons at WalMart). I hope this does the trick. Maybe blocking won't be so scary after all. I hope I have good success with this method; it is a super easy method if it works! More on that tomorrow maybe...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Great American Afghan... it's coming together!

Every once in awhile I like to lay out my blocks and see how things are shaping up. Most of the blocks are pretty similar in size which is great since I've not yet put much effort into shaping or blocking. I still have a lot to learn about blocking. The only block which seems significantly smaller to me is the pale lavendar diagonal block but it feels very stretchy much like ribbing. Still need to stitch down the trees and the appliques on the Under the Tree block. I have two more blocks on needles as I write... the Entrelac with a Twist Block (#19) and also #24. Block #24 has an invisible cast on down the middle of the block. We were so focused on the invisible cast on in class that by the time I got home and got the block started, I got stuck on rows #1 and #2 of the chart pattern. I'll get it figured out with some help from the course instructor. In the mean time, I am working on the blocks I can complete on my own. I am looking forward to starting Block #15. I also need to get working on Block #5 and Block #10. No pressure!

#8 Cable Block is Complete!

Glad to be done with this one. I got easier and easier as I went along. The color coding of the different cable stitches throughout the pattern helped immensely! I have not blocked this one so I had the help of Santa and Mr. Christmas Duckie to weigh down the edges.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

#8 Cable Block still in progress

You can tell I was distracted by my cheery Christmas stocking, but now... back to the Great American Afghan! Again this photo is a bit dark, but if you "click" on the photo, the image will be enlarged for you so maybe you can see the detail a bit better. I love this block. The other day, a gal in knitting was looking at some of my completed blocks and she asked, "do you enjoy the textural knitting over colorwork?" I had never given this much thought, but I think I really do love these heavily textured blocks. I am simultaneously working on the entrelac block made with two colors and the thought of weaving in all the loose ends really is bothering me... so YES, I really do enjoy the textural knitting! I am a bit of a lazy crafter... I have known that for years... and I've accepted that about myself! (Hee, hee!)

A stocking on Christmas Eve

I found this free pattern for a Christmas stocking on http://www.knitpicks.com/

The pattern is named "Miss Eiderdown's Stocking" if you are wanting to search for it.

There are some embellishments I have not yet gotten to. The pattern includes three charts for duplicate stitch motifs... a snowman, a snow flake, and a pine tree. You can see there is a nice area on the stocking portion just screaming for more decoration. You might recognize the yarn I used from the miniature sweaters I made a few weeks back. Yarn from my Mom's yarn stash (Thanks Mom!). We had light dustings of snow the last two mornings, but now it's bright and sunny and melty.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

#19 Entrelac with a Twist in progress!

This block is vastly different than the others in the Great American Afghan. This is the entrelac square (which translates to interlace.... I think "entrelac" is a French term). I've experimented with the entrelac technique a bit in the past so I understood in advance how this square was going to come together. I call this square "Entrelac with a Twist" because the aqua blue squares also have a cable twist within the squares. I am enjoying making this square (although entrelac is very labor intensive... involves lots of picking up and knitting stiches and lots of weaving in loose ends!) I am a bit worried this square is going to be rather messy looking. An interesting thing about this square is that the garter stitch borders on the left and right sides are going to be knit at the end and then stitched to the sides of the block. Currently there are three stitches "on hold" on the right and left sides way down at the bottom or beginning of the block. The colors in the photos sure look different, don't they? The second photo (with the book in the background) depicts the colors more accurately. The flash does weird things to the colors it seems. In looking at the photo, I think I see a mistake in one of the aqua blocks???? Do you see it???? If there's a mistake in there, I don't have the heart to go back. This square is just too much work! I am going to have to settle for "good enough"...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gift Exchange

Earlier in the week I showed you the miniature sweater ornaments I made for my coworker, Mrs. W. Well, this is a photo of the gift she made for me. Homemade gifts are so much more special. Mrs. W is into ceramics and she makes beautiful things. This is a ceramic canister and it also came with a bottle of wine (which is in the refrigerator! Yum!) I am using the canister to hold my wooden spoons and other utensils. The design is a decal which goes perfectly with my kitchen theme of chefs and waiters. Apparently, Mrs. W went to a huge effort to find just the right decals to match my kitchen and she did a great job! I love, love, love it! New chicken recipe in the Crock Pot this morning (you can see the Crock Pot in the photo). A variation on Mrs. W's chicken recipe. Four chicken breasts, 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1/2 a can of diced green chilies, 1 1/2 coarsely chopped red bell pepper (before they spoiled in the refrigerator), 1/2 a can of water, along with some garlic powder, salt, pepper and oregano. I think it might be like chicken enchiladas without the tortillas. I plan to have this with basmati rice made with chicken broth. McRibs are back in town; boys are excited about that... I am not. Mickey D's for the boys, awesome Crock Pot recipe for Mom!

#8 Cable Block in progress

I wish I could take better photos of the dark colored squares! If you "click" on the photos, the photo will be enlarged and you can see the detail a bit better. This is the first repeat (it's a 24 row repeat). This block is not difficult... you just have to be really focused to ensure you use the correct cable stitch. There are eight different cable stitches in this pattern. The colored markers and all the post it notes are keeping me on track! I think I need to work on something less complicated at knitting group today or else I'll just make a bunch of mistakes!

#22 Knit Stitch and Cast On is complete!

I finally finished the second side of block #22. I think I am glad I used a contrasting color yarn for the I-cord portion which is supposed to mimic the look of casting on and binding off. Right now, I am working on Square #8. It is full of cables. I just finished the first repeat of the cable pattern. It's very easy to make mistakes on this block because all the cable stitches sound the same.
I rummaged through my son's room to find a variety of colored markers to mark the
pattern and the "in other words" portion so I can use color as a reference to see which cable stitch I am supposed to be using. I'll have to post a bit about that later!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Miniature Sweater #5

Purple is Mrs. W's favorite color. This sweater was for her...

Miniature Sweater #4

A sweet little pink sweater for a sweet little girl. This sweater has a heart on the front (made from alternating from stockinette to garter stitch). I crocheted a scalloped collar around the neck.

Miniature Sweater #3

I found this fancy white yarn and cheery, cherry red yarn in my yarn stash! Look like Christmas to me!

Miniature Sweater #2

A few different views of Miniature Sweater #2. I put a hood on this one!

#2 Mariner's Compass is Complete!

This square, although it looks rather simple, really gave me fits! The designer calls her pattern a shape within a shape within a shape and so on... she says she has a degree in math and likes geometric shapes! Go figure! I think this block resembles a Mariner's Compass design like you seen in quilts sometimes. There is a square in the center. To make the bottom and top side of the square, you have to bind off stitches and then pick up and knit stitches in the same place when you return to the bound off stitches on the following row. The instructions got me goofed up. The instructions say "bind of 16 stitches, following special instructions". I thought this meant to bind off the 16 stitches USING the special instructions. But the instructions would have been more clear if it said, "bind of 16 stiches THEN follow the special instructions for the next stitch". It was also a goofy pattern because the cable stitch instructions have different instructions for the cables depending upon whether or not you are on a wrong side row or a right side row. Needless to say, I am constantly becoming more and MORE proficient at unknitting rows! Also, when I picked up and knitted the stitches to make the bottom and top of the square in the center, I don't think I picked up the stitches in the correct bumps so I don't think my ridges are as prominent as they were supposed to be. But I am settling for good enough!

What's keeping me busy!

The other day I was trying to figure out what to knit for my friend and coworker, Mrs. W. We are great pals and it's wonderful to have some one you enjoy so much as a coworker. It's pretty much just me and Mrs. W. in an office space for 10 hour shifts so it's a great thing we like each other so much! I decided to make sweater ornaments for her... but not just one. I wanted to make one for each of her family members. That's Mrs. W, hubby, teen daughter who turns 14 today by the way, and boy girl twins who just turned four! That's five little sweaters. After I finished the first one, I was determined knitting miniature sweater ornaments was going to be my new addiction, but after staying up late for a few nights in a row, I am ready to go back to my Great American Afghan for a little bit! Phew, I am exhausted! But this project was totally worth it because that's how much Mrs. W means to me!
I will post separate emails of each little sweater so you can see the detail but for now, I am guzzling coffee, gobbling cereal, and I am out the door to work! I have other blocks done as well and will post them soon.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Miniature Sweater #1

If you go to http://www.berroco.com/, and then type in the word "minutia" in the search box, you'll find three sets of patterns for the most adorable sweater ornaments. Apparently they've put out such collections in 2007, 2008, and 2009. I finally sat down to make one of thes and I just love the result! I just used the directions (how many stitches to cast on, how many rows, and ideas for needle size and yarn weight) and then just took it from there as far as my own design. A simple little cable on this one with some alternating rows of knit and purl. You start on the bottom front with a few rows of ribbing and then work your way up from there as you would a big sweater, then you bind off a few stitches in the middle of the row for a neck opening, then the very next row... you cast on the same number of stitches in the middle of the row to finish the neck opening. You complete the back of the sweater in the same manner as the front and then pick up and knit stitches on the right and left sides of the sweater up by the neck hole to make sleeves. Then stitch the side seams and the arms... done! Piece of cake. The possibilities are limitless. I have been digging through my stash of yarn for inspiration and it's not hard to find it! I could easily get addicted to making these! Hmmm, if I start now, how many of these little buggers could I have done by Christmas 2010!? You can easily make one of these in an evening. I am working on another one right now...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

#22 Knit Stitch and Cast-On nearly complete

This block was not difficult and it forced me learn to make a decent looking I-cord. I have to make a second I-cord for the opposite side of the block. The block background is made up of a nine stitch repeat. It takes six rows to make each "stockinette" stitch. I think this block is very clever. When describing her block design, the designer of the block writes...

Since I love stockinette, I wondered if I could come up with a cable that looks like stockinette stitch fabric and his is my result. I also wanted to mimic a cast-on and bind-off edge on a big scale. I found I-cord worked in chain stitch stitch did the trick.

#4 Under the Sea... still in progress

Slowly but surely I am making progress on the Under the Sea block! It turns out the blocks with appliques are a lot of work. (I was also distracted by Square #22. I guess baking and candy making for Christmas gifts, wrapping said baked goods, packing and shipping, and Christmas cards have all had me distracted as well. Imagine that!? Phew, sure is good to have all that done!) Nothing about the Under the Sea block is particulary difficult. I found the background to be a bit boring on this block. The appliques are pretty quick and fun, but all the loose ends took a bit of labor to work into the backsides of the appliques so they look more presentable. The burgundy colored appliques are the crab... can you tell yet? I need to make more I-cord legs for Mr. Crab. I think I have the I-cords figured out. I really like the fishies and the snail on this block. I am glad I chose to make the appliques in different colors... I only hope the block will not look too busy with so many colors.